How To Prepare For Competitive Entrance Exams: Important Tips

Cracking competitive entrance exams can be tough. But knowledge is power and we answer all the questions your child may need to know before he appears for one.

By Parama Gupta and Leena Ghosh  • 20 min read

How To Prepare For Competitive Entrance Exams: Important Tips

Competitive exams are an important part of every student’s life. The main purpose for conducting most entrance exams is to select the best candidates to fill a limited number of seats or vacancies available at an institution or an organisation. During these exams, students are tested for their aptitude, knowledge and skills required for a particular line of study or work. Performing well in these exams can help students gain admission to prestigious institutions or enable job aspirants to set off on the career paths to pursue their dreams. And, preparation is the key to acing these exams. Competitive exam preparation needs a student to focus and have a positive attitude. Here’s all your teen needs to know to make a successful preparation strategy to excel in competitive exams.

General tips for competitive entrance exams

1. When should your child start preparing for competitive exams?

The time needed to prepare for a competitive exam depends on the syllabus and the pattern of the exam. Generally, your child should start preparing for a competitive exam at least a year or two before the exam.

2. How should your child prepare for competitive exams?

Your child should start early and follow a study timetable. Make sure he reads widely in the initial stages of preparation and makes ample notes. Ensure that he familiarises himself with all the concepts that are included in the syllabus. Let him plan his schedule in such a way that he has enough time to revise the entire syllabus at least twice before the exam. Test his ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical problems after studying every unit. Most competitive exams focus on three subjects – English, General Knowledge and Mathematics. So, whether it is General Knowledge for competitive exams, English grammar for competitive exams, Science for competitive exams or Maths for competitive exams, your child can always test how much he knows by giving online tests for competitive exams.

3. How does entrance exam coaching help?

By going for competitive exam coaching, your child will fall into a routine of study. She will get to discuss competitive exam papers and competitive exam materials and familiarise herself with the patterns of the question papers and latest trends in the examination. Studying with a peer group helps her stay motivated. Besides covering the syllabus for the exam, the trainers at a coaching centre can give your child useful tips for all competitive exams.

4. How can your child prepare for competitive exams without coaching?

Your child can crack these exams with the right approach to self-study. One such method is online preparation for competitive exams. Let her start with knowing the syllabus and collecting all the materials needed for the study. Make her stick to her study schedule and stay focussed and motivated throughout the preparation stage. Also, make sure she gets sufficient practice in solving questions by enrolling for mock tests containing competitive exams’ questions and answers. This will help build her confidence before she takes the actual exam. Let her work on her weaknesses while playing to her strengths.

5. How can your child prepare for the general knowledge questions for competitive exams?

Reading newspapers every day will help your child stay abreast of the latest in current affairs and enhance his knowledge of English for competitive exams. Let him try to cover all sections of the newspaper such as politics, business, science and technology, and sports, to stay updated with the happenings in each field. Also, make him refer to magazines and websites like Competition Success Review, General Knowledge Today, Pratiyogita Darpan, and Jaagran Josh, which provide capsules of current affairs for competitive exams including important dates and abbreviations, news, Indian polity, history, geography, etc. You can also subscribe to Year books released by certain publications to help your child answer competitive exam questions better.

Now, let us look at some common competitive exams in India.

After school competitive exams (to pursue graduate degree programmes)

Engineering: JEE Main, JEE Advanced, BITSAT (Birla Institute of Technology and Science Admission Test)

Medical: National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET), All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) MBBS

Law: Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), All India Law Entrance Test (AILET)

Humanities and Social Sciences: IIT Madras Humanities and Social Sciences Entrance Examination (HSEE), TISS Bachelors Admission Test (TISS-BAT)

Fashion and Design-related courses: National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Entrance Test, National Institute of Design Admissions, All India Entrance Examination for Design (AIEED)

Apart from these, various other competitive exams are held in different states of the country.

Special tips

  • Preparation for medical entrance exams (NEET)

Your child should give special attention to mastering the concepts of Physics, Chemistry and Biology while studying for Class 12 Board exam. For the study material for NEET, let her refer to NCERT textbooks of classes 11 and 12 for basic understanding of the concepts, and invest on refreshers and question banks from reputed publications for further understanding and practical application.

  • Preparation for hotel management entrance exam

In India, the NCHMCT (National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology) JEE is conducted every year to select students for admission to the country’s top hotel management colleges. From 2019, the test has gone online. This exam tests the English language skills, numerical ability, scientific aptitude, reasoning and logical ability, general knowledge and current affairs awareness of the candidates. Basic knowledge of Physics, Chemistry and Maths is also essential along with knowledge of health and nutrition.

In the GK section of this competitive exam, your child should pay special attention to tourist spots and currencies of different countries.

  • Preparation for JEE Advanced and JEE Main

Preparation for JEE can start as early as Class 8. However, two years before the exam should be good enough for your child to start your preparation if she studies regularly. Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics form the core of the syllabus and equal weightage is given to all three subjects. While referring to NCERT textbooks of Classes 9, 10, 11 and 12 will help your child build the strong theoretical foundation for the subjects, it’s important to test her ability to apply these concepts to various higher level problems. This can be done by referring to various refreshers and question banks.

  • Preparation for Common Law Admission Test

Apart from testing logical reasoning, English comprehension skills, Mathematics and general awareness, the Common Law Admission Test also assesses the candidates’ legal aptitude, which is the most significant section of the exam. It is further divided into three parts namely Legal Reasoning, Legal Facts and Legal General Knowledge. To prepare for this section, make your child learn about the history and salient features of the Indian Constitution, Fundamental rights and duties, the Preamble, the Indian Penal Code, Law of Torts, the functions and hierarchy of the Indian judiciary, terms and concepts related to courts, etc. Questions in this section will test the ability to derive the correct answer from four choices by reading and understanding the question.

After graduation competitive exams (for higher studies)

  • Preparation for MBA entrance exams

There are several MBA entrance exams conducted in India such as CAT, XAT, GMAT, CMAT and MAT. Most MBA entrance exams involve three stages – the written test, group discussion and personal interview. For the Written Test, the focus should be on logical and mathematical reasoning ability, general awareness, verbal ability, data interpretation and English language skills. For Group Discussion (GD), your child should gather information on the most relevant topics in current affairs as well as common GD topics listed on the Internet. Let him watch a few videos of GD demos online to know the various positive and negative personality traits that come to the surface during a GD. This will help him form his own strategy. Similarly, let him prepare for the interview by focussing on his strengths, achievements, goals and weaknesses.

  • Preparation for GATE

Preparation for the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) will need your child to be thorough with the engineering concepts learnt at the undergraduate level and be able to apply them to complex problems. The test has been computerised recently and involves both MCQ and non-MCQ type questions. Your child will need to be thorough with all the formulae and theories in the syllabus to enter the correct answers for the non MCQ type questions. Also, let him note that wrong answers in MCQs involve negative marking. Make him practise online English grammar test for competitive exams, online Maths test for competitive exams and online Reasoning test for competitive exams well ahead of the actual exam. This will help him identify areas where he needs practice and how best to get the maximum score.

Job-related exams

  • Preparation for bank entrance exams

Common bank jobs exams in India are the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) exams and the State Bank of India exams. The Bank PO Exam stands for 'Bank Probationary Officer Exam'. Through the Bank PO exam, one can apply for a Managerial Level post offered in several banks of the country. Institute of Banking Personnel Selection or IBPS organises PO exam every year to recruit for managerial posts in 20 Public Sector Banks in India. The syllabus and patterns for the preliminary stages for these exams is similar while that of the mains may differ. While preparing, one will need to sharpen the logical reasoning ability, quantitative aptitude, computer awareness and general awareness, and prepare for English grammar questions and answers. There are several websites that can help one learn Maths tricks for competitive exams to solve numerical problems and mathematical reasoning questions. Regular reading of books, magazines and newspapers will also help to sail through the English language and GK sections. Also, special attention should be paid to terms and concepts related to banking and finance.

  • Preparation for SSC exam

The Staff Selection Commission, set up by the Government of India, holds exams every year to recruit people to Group C and Group B government posts. The SSC exam is primarily divided into two groups - SSC Combined Graduate Level exam (CGL) and Combined Higher Secondary Level Exam (CHSL). Other than that, they also recruit for Junior Engineer posts (SSC JE) and the Central Police Organisation posts (SSC CPO). The SSC CGL exam has four papers, while SSC CHSL has three. To prepare for SSC CGL and SSC CHSL, a candidate must brush up on his reasoning, English language, mathematical and general knowledge skills. Preparation should begin a year in advance and one should read newspapers religiously to improve English language skills and general knowledge. Candidates can also join SSC maths coaching or go through the competitive exam papers online.

"There are no short cuts to studying for an exam. But, if a student studies with proper planning and discipline, then surely, he can cover the syllabus in time. To study for the exam, students should first analyse the syllabus. Then, they can start preparing by going through standard books. The most important thing is to practice as many sample question papers as possible. If required, they can also join online classes for expert help. Regarding the general awareness section, a student should update his knowledge of current affairs and read newspapers regularly. For the reasoning and aptitude paper, the student must solve sample papers for 1 hour every day."
— Akhand Swaroop Pandit, Ex IES Officer,TED Speaker, Educationist and Founder of The catalyst group. 

  • Preparation for UPSC Mains and UPSC Prelims

Given the huge syllabus and the long period over which the Indian Civil Services Exam (CSE) is held, it is important to have a meticulous and a highly focussed approach. Candidates should start preparing at least two years before they take the UPSC Prelims. The Prelims involve objective type questions and require extensive preparation. UPSC Mains question paper is subjective and requires both extensive and intensive reading of the subject material. Preparation for the Mains should start even before the results of the Prelims are out as there is a gap of only three to four months between the two stages. 

Some important exams that are conducted by the UPSC are:

  • Civil Services Examination
  • Indian Economic Service Examination
  • Indian Statistical Service Examination
  • National Defence Academy & Naval Academy Examination
  • Combined Medical Services Examination
  • Engineering Services Examinations

Candidates can visit the UPSC website to get more details.

  • Preparation for the Combined Defence Services Exam

The Combined Defence Services Exams (CDSE) organised by the UPSC, has two separate exams. One exam leads to entry to the Indian Military Academy, Naval Academy or Air Force Academy. To do well in this exam, candidates need to have sound general knowledge, be strong in English grammar and be good in Mathematics (of Class 9 and 10 level). Regular reading of newspapers, referring to good grammar books and practising all the concepts of school level mathematics should do the trick. Another exam, which is also a part of the CDS, is for selection to the Officers Training Academy. This exam tests only English and General Knowledge. Preparation for the CDS exams can start as early as class 10 and can be taken after completing your graduation or in the final year of your UG degree.

Other job-related exams after graduation

  • Exam for different posts through Reserve Bank of India Services Board
  • Exam for Development Officers and others through National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD)
  • Exam for Telecom Officers in the Department of Telecommunications
  • Common Entrance Examination for Design (CEED)
  • NIFT Entrance Exam

*6 Tips to Help Your Teen Crack Competitive Exams

Cracking competitive exams is mandatory to obtain admission in the top higher educational institutions in India. Is your teen getting ready for competitive exams? Worry not; here’s how you can help him crack them.

How to prepare for competitive exams

Here are some tips on how you can help your teen prepare for competitive exams.

  1. Setting a clear goal: Setting definite career goals early in life will help your child reach where he wants to go. Help him pick up his goal based on his interest. Do not impose your aspirations on him, if he is not interested. Help him explore his strengths and limitations. Once he has set a goal for himself, he will know where he should concentrate his efforts. For example, suppose your teen has set for himself the goal of joining the armed forces, he will focus his efforts towards preparing for those exams meant for a career in defence services. He will not waste his time studying for other exams.
  2. Devising a study plan: Once your teen has set a goal for herself, assist her in creating an effective and realistic study plan. Time management is an essential ingredient in the recipe for success. Ensure that your child’s study plan outlines the time to be allocated to various aspects of the syllabus and also for regular revision. Get her the study materials on time so that she need not waste time waiting for them.
  3. Working with a daily time table: Following a clearly laid-out daily plan helps to manage time effectively. Encourage your teen to break down his work into time-bound, simpler tasks. Demonstrate this skill yourself in carrying out your everyday tasks and inspire him to follow your example. Make sure he has enough breaks in between study. You can join him in his breaks and do something that you both enjoy, for example, listening to a song, playing a quick board game, etc.
  4. Staying motivated: Minor setbacks in your teen’s exam plans are normal. Don’t let this affect her motivation. Encourage her to go for her best. Give her pep talks when she needs it more. Treat her with simple gifts or genuine words of appreciation whenever she achieves her significant target milestones.
  5. Adopting a healthy lifestyle: Healthy lifestyle and habits go a long way in the success of your child. Ensure he has healthy food and proper rest. Keep him away from junk food and late night-outs and anything that drains his energy and diverts his attention.
  6. Practising constantly: The adage ‘practice makes a man perfect’ is quite true. Encourage your child to take as many mock tests as possible before she sits for the actual exam. This will help her improve her timing, boost her confidence and enhance her chances of achieving better scores.

While every competitive exam involves a different syllabus and approach, a few common tips for competitive exams include being aware of the question paper pattern, dividing time for each section and sticking to the time limit, and staying positive and motivated throughout the preparation stage as well as during the exam. Invest on relevant books for competitive exams. Systematic preparation, frequent revisions, practice and self-confidence will ensure the best results.

Finally, as a parent, cheer up your child and let him know that you are proud of his efforts in preparing for the exam. Your support will help him look forward to the future with a lot of hope.

Always remember - “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Sir Winston Churchill)

*With inputs from Ram Shankar

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